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47th anniversary: Deadly Gibbs-Green tragedy still resonates with those from past, present

L.A. Warren Newest Byline

James “Lap” Baker witnessed the May 1970 tragedy that left two young people dead. “History has the proneness to repeat itself, and we have to be very careful not to forget,” he warned. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

James “Lap” Baker witnessed the May 1970 tragedy that left two young people dead. “History has the proneness to repeat itself, and we have to be very careful not to forget,” he warned. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Jackson State University commemorated the 47th anniversary of the Gibbs-Green tragedy that occurred May 15, 1970, with students, faculty and staff listening to reflections and a call for continued remembrance of that bitter past that left two people dead and at least a dozen injured.

The Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center at JSU sponsored the wreath-laying event on Monday, April 10, on the memorial Gibbs-Green Plaza. The site was named in honor of two individuals slain from gunfire that erupted from the Mississippi Highway Patrol: Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior pre-law major and married father of an 18-month-old son and another child on the way; and James Earl Green, 17, a senior at Jim Hill High School, who was killed while observing the chaos.

James “Lap” Baker witnessed the tumultuous scene. He briefly recounted how the mayhem unfolded, but, most importantly, delivered a message that failure to remember will have grave consequences: “History has the proneness to repeat itself, and we have to be very careful not to forget.”

Baker recounted the startling aftermath of 460 rounds of bullets that ripped from firearms, with Alexander Hall (a woman’s residential dorm) bearing the brunt of the  attack.

“They (law enforcement officers) got away with it then,” said Baker, urging the audience not to become apathetic today.

Miss JSU-elect, Comelia Walker (2017-2018), reflected on the history of a people known for overcoming trials and tribulations. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Miss JSU-elect, Comelia Walker (2017-2018), reflected on the history of a people known for overcoming trials and tribulations. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Also, Baker expressed dismay that some students still don’t know about the nightmare of May 1970. He urged faculty and staff to continue telling the story that rocked the nation and highlighted the racial tensions of the times, even though some people related the Jackson shootings to the tragedy that occurred May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio. There, anti-war fervor left four students dead and nine wounded because of the aggression in Vietnam.

From Baker’s perspective, the shooting in Jackson was about racism rather than the Vietnam War.

Speaking on behalf of the administration, Dr. Evelyn J. Leggette, JSU’s provost and senior vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, said the community remains tied to this commemoration because students lost their lives due to the unrest.

“This is important to us. This is covered in many of our classes. We are dedicated to talking to our students about this tragedy,” said Leggette, emphasizing that the university will make sure to incorporate this historical event into its curriculum.

JSU graduating senior Paul Battle of Jackson said he serendipitously walked up on the event after hearing from a distance Baker’s account of the tragic assault.

A number of people affected by the tragedy returned to pay homage to those who lost their lives or were injured. A wreath was placed outside Alexander Residence Hall, a building struck by a barrage of gunfire. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

A number of people affected by the tragedy returned to pay homage to those who lost their lives or were injured. A wreath was placed outside Alexander Residence Hall, a building struck by a barrage of gunfire. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

“It was so very powerful; it touched me. I got a new understanding as to why I should go even further with my education so that I can make a bigger difference in my life and the lives of others,” said Battle, who admitted that he had not heard about the tragedy before Monday. He said he was born in 1990, but “this event gives me more insight into the reason I’m graduating so that I can educate others. This really touched home.”

Others from that 1970 era were also in attendance for the wreath-laying ceremony:

  • Eddie Jean Carr, Miss JSU (1970-1971)
  • Vernon Weakley, JSU Class of 1970
  • Peggy Hobson Calhoun, JSU Class of 1970
  • Quilly Turner, JSU Class of 1970
  • Hillman Frazier, JSU Class of 1971
  • Lee Bernard, JSU Class of 1972

Annually, Baker returns to JSU to mark this solemn occasion.

Just remember, he said, “If you don’t know your history, you will have no understanding of your present or no vision for your future.”